A hunk of man-made debris that was previously orbiting beyond the moon and it’s on a collision course with our pale blue dot.

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According to astronomers, object WT1190F is about one or two meters long and likely hollow. Beyond those dimensions, it’s unclear exactly what the object is. It is expected that most, if not all of WT1190F will disintegrate in orbit on November 13 of this year, around 06:19 GMT to be precise.

What ever remains from the burn up in orbit will splash down somewhere south of Sri Lanka.

While the event may go unnoticed by most people, it has sent astronomers who track Near Earth Objects (NEOs) into a frenzy. WT1190F’s unplanned reentry is a (thankfully) rare chance for astronomers to study how incoming objects interact with the atmosphere. It will also give astronomers a chance to test out an internationally coordinated network, set up to track more dangerous space objects on an earth-bound course.

A piece of space junk on a collision course with Earth appears as a bright spec in the center of the GIF below. Image Credit: B. Bolin, R. Jedicke, M. Michel
A piece of space junk on a collision course with Earth appears as a bright spot.
Image Credit: B. Bolin, R. Jedicke, M. Michel

The jury is still out, however, on exactly what the object is. there are potentially thousands of pieces of so-called ‘space junk’ – old rocket stages, left over satellite pieces, nuts, bolts and other odd ends we’ve simply left in space. This ‘trash’ are orbiting close o earth, and so far we’ve only been able to track 20 or so object that orbit much further outs. Wt1190F was orbiting a highly elliptical obit twice the distance of the moon.

According to Harvard Astrophysics professor Jonathan McDowell, it could be a special object…

something of a relic from the past

[…”a lost piece of space history that’s come back to haunt us…There is no official, funded effort to do tracking of deep-Earth orbits the way we track low-Earth orbit…I think that has to change”…] Jonathan McDowell, Harvard Astrophysicist

 

History or not, no one is going to catch it. It’ll be another piece of our space history, and just as quickly, it will be gone in a flash. At least it came back home.

[via Nature]

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